AU­TUMN 1981

Just an or­di­nary car park in an or­di­nary city 35 years ago. Yet who wouldn’t want to take a wan­der through these rows?

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - The Way We Were -

Nor­mally in these fea­tures, we like to pluck a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion and show how the cars of the era fit­ted into that land­scape. Not this time though. This is Peter­bor­ough rail­way sta­tion car park, taken from the neigh­bour­ing Queens­gate shop­ping cen­tre multi-storey. But it could be any­where in the UK in 1981; a fas­ci­nat­ing snap­shot, with no in­trud­ing ar­chi­tec­tural dis­trac­tions, of the di­ver­sity of cars that typ­i­cally in­hab­ited ur­ban en­vi­rons of this time. It’s a lovely mix of old and new, big and small, British and for­eign, bat­tered and pris­tine, good and, um, not-quite-so-good, and even front- and rear-en­gined ma­chines.

Where to start with this cock­tail of clas­sic cu­rios then? Well, let’s take it from the top. The row on the right is headed by one of British Ley­land’s finest, an Austin Al­le­gro. It’s a Se­ries 1 four-door saloon, dat­ing from 1973-75 – we can just make out the glint of the chrome car­toon script ‘Al­le­gro’ badge on the left-hand side of the bon­net. Sadly, the qual­ity of 1980s’ film stock means we can’t quite make out if it’s still got its orig­i­nal and in­fa­mous Quar­tic steer­ing wheel cor­rectly in place.

Next is a Chrysler or Tal­bot Sun­beam – an old Rootes mar­que be­ing re­cy­cled as a model name. De­spite Pe­tula Clark melod­i­cally urg­ing every­body to ‘Put a Chrysler Sun­beam in your life’ at the car’s 1977 launch, Peu­geot killed it off just four years later, af­ter the French firm took over Chrysler’s Euro­pean oper­a­tions and closed the Lin­wood plant near Glas­gow where it was made.

Its neigh­bour is a Mor­ris Ma­rina es­tate, un­usu­ally with a white vinyl roof. An oblig­a­tory Mini is next, prob­a­bly an early to mid-1970s ex­am­ple as there’s a British Ley­land badge on the wing and the chrome grille and bumpers haven’t yet turned black.

Ad­ja­cent to it, two Vaux­halls are sand­wich­ing a ba­sic spec Austin miniMetro (with re­cessed head­lamps), which would have been al­most new. So would the As­tra to its right – like the Metro, the model only de­buted in 1980. The Chevette isn’t that old ei­ther, as it looks to be a lim­ited edi­tion 1980 Lux, in Or­ange Tan and Hazel Brown, with a wal­nut ve­neer dash inside. These vari­ants were put to­gether by Star Cars of Ampthill, which started out do­ing Lon­don dealer spe­cials be­fore be­ing given the gig by Vaux­hall to pro­duce SEs for the na­tional mar­ket.

We’ve a Citroën 2CV and four-door Tri­umph Toledo next, along with a very rare Fi­esta in­deed. It’s a MkI Sand­piper, just 2500 of which were re­leased in De­cem­ber 1979. Based on the 1.1L, most came with Ro­man Bronze over Cor­doba Beige paint and Ghia-spec seats.

Peter­bor­ough has a large Ital­ian com­mu­nity, which could ex­plain why three Fi­ats ap­pear to have banded to­gether for safety. The tiny 127 is con­form­ing to mar­que stereo­type by show­ing blos­som­ing cor­ro­sion on the doors and bot­tom of the rear wings, but its two Se­ries II 128 big­ger sis­ters seem in bet­ter nick.

Mov­ing up the left-hand row now, there’s another Chevette, this time a pre-1976 facelift ex­am­ple with re­cessed head­lamps. The neigh­bour­ing Cortina MkIII es­tate is just glo­ri­ous – a patch­work quilt of rust re­pairs. It can’t have been any older than 11 years, yet its con­di­tion is woe­ful. It’s ei­ther had a very hard life, or was built on a Fri­day af­ter­noon. What­ever the case, it prob­a­bly didn’t sur­vive too much longer…

Hope­fully, the ba­sic MkI Mor­ris Mini-Mi­nor won’t have caught tin­worm from it, be­cause it would be worth a lot these days, even with its leop­ard­skin seat cov­ers. Then comes a MkV Ford Cortina L and a Tri­umph Stag miss­ing its front bumper. Was it re­moved to give the V8 al fresco cruiser ex­tra at­ti­tude, or had it sim­ply fallen off?

The ad­join­ing spa­ces are oc­cu­pied by a VW Golf MkI and Vaux­hall Cav­a­lier MkI, the hint of Rostyle wheel on the lat­ter sug­gest­ing a bet­ter-ap­pointed ex­am­ple. The Audi 100 C2 would still have been quite ex­otic for 1981, un­like the third gen­er­a­tion Mor­ris Ma­rina coupé, even given its al­lur­ing black vinyl roof. Still, it would have been more ex­cit­ing than the Volvo 343 keep­ing it com­pany. In be­tween it and its five-door 345 sis­ter at the top of the row are a Hill­man Imp and an Austin miniMetro HLS, the range-top­per un­til the Vanden Plas of 1982.

Thirty-five years later, would you find this sort of va­ri­ety in a mod­ern view? Our 2016 com­par­i­son shot (left) defini­tively an­swers that ques­tion…

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